When I moved to Myanmar, I had two dreams: that I would be able to drive a motorbike around and that there would be a fabulous yoga studio for me to practice at. Only one of those wishes came true: I bought a motorbike on my first Saturday in the country.
So to make up for the unanswered other dream, I started doing videos online, but the electrical power supply and the internet were both unreliable. I started doing 20 minute “Yoga Download” podcasts. I liked it, but the podcasts definitely very complete sessions—straight through from warm up to cool down. So I never felt that itch to do just one more pose, though my muscles and joints longed for more.
One day, I didn’t have any new podcasts so I simply rolled out my mat. That’s always the first step. At first, I just sort of stood on it awkwardly in mountain pose, thinking soooo wait what do I do again?
Then I remembered sun salutations. I struggled at first with small things, like wait, when do I raise up to the flat back again? Before or after the downward dog? Or both?
But after a bit, my muscles started to engage and my mind started to connect with my body. I could feel my blood flowing and my lungs pumping. It all felt so right. I knew I needed the movement. After a few rounds, I sort of stopped again, stuck. Well. Then what?
Slowly poses started to come to mind and I threw a couple of vinyasas in here and there when I remembered. My transitions were clunky and disjointed; as I remembered various poses, I did them. I was standing, balancing, then laying on the mat, then seated before standing again. I had a hard time remembering what I did on one side so I could also do it on the other. I just did everything I could think of! Then after a while, more and more poses were flooding my mind but I had to take savasana because I tired myself out!
The reason I’m sharing this story is to spread encouragement. It’s wonderful to start and to try asana on your own.
If you’ve been to a fair number of classes, you probably know more poses and more about them than you think. Trust yourself and your knowledge when you’re on the mat.
As I started to roll out my mat more, I also looked for some resources, like info-graphics from Pinterest with a whole collection of poses. I’d print them and glance at them for inspiration from time to time.
I also started to read some yoga books, like Yoga Mind Body and Spirit. This book is very helpful for describing the process for getting into each pose and what to focus on once you’re in it. It was great for me as a reminder of the alignment and goals of the poses. If you’re worried about hurting yourself in self-practice, this book could be the reassurance you need to find yourself on the mat.
Later, I also got into drawing little sequences for myself or for my class so I knew which poses in particular I wanted to tackle. But I had to remind myself it was ok to stray from the plan if I actually wound up wanting to do something else.
As I became more and more comfortable with poses and sequences, I started to hear from my body more and more. I could feel tightness in the back of my leg and I knew from experience downward dog would elongate the muscle perfectly to soothe it. Or I would just get a sense that my body really, really wanted to drop down into malasana (garland pose). That was one of my most common distractions from standing poses: desire to do malasana. I almost always give in to whatever my body asks.
On the topic of listening to your body, be aware of signs of pain. In yoga, it’s good to challenge yourself and push yourself. Try new poses, new binds, new variations. However, it’s also good to stop where you feel resistance. You never want to feel real pain in yoga. Injuries take a long time to recover from, physically and mentally.
Sometimes my body would tell me it was too tired to start so I’d lay on the mat in supta badda konasana (reclining bound angle pose) and just wait to feel the pull to shift into a supine twist or happy baby (ananda balasana). Once I got going, I often found starting a few poses begged for more and I would be standing, balancing and striving for new limits before I knew it.
Some days I practice for 10 minutes and some days I have to cut myself off after an hour and a half or so because I have other things I should do. You never know what may be waiting inside that will find you on the mat.
One of the other most important things about practicing is finding a good place to do it. Make sure you have enough room and set up a pleasant atmosphere for yourself. BKS Iyengar says you must find a place with good light and no insects, but I think it goes way beyond that. Make your space sing: light a candle or incense, turn on some music that reflects your mood or your practice, de-clutter, add something nice to look at or inspire you. If you have props, like a pillow or block or strap that you use, bring them to your space. If you feel at peace and at home in your yoga space, you will be much more likely to feel drawn to it and want to practice. Click the image at the right to learn more about creating your own yoga space.
“Yoga isn’t about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down.” Self-practice will teach you a lot about yourself inside and out; body, mind, and soul
• Roll out your mat and start
• Trust yourself and your knowledge
• Be present
• Listen to your body